How COVID-19 may alter cannabis culture forever

Published May 15, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Boonyachoat

Countries all around the world are well into the second month of lockdowns. Roads that were once some of the most traversed are now nearly empty, and access to stores has dwindled down to include only the most essential services. Life as we know it has changed significantly, and despite what many protestors and folks sitting at home right now might think, this adjustment isn’t a temporary one, which means that we aren’t likely to ever see life return to normal, as we once knew it before.

The uncertainty of our future holds heavy on the hearts and minds of people all around the world, as governments unveil plans to tackle the spread of COVID-19. Many of which will greatly impact the way we do things. For example, stores are likely to maintain social distancing recommendations well into the foreseeable future, and establishments that cannot maintain this kind of environment are taking other precautions, such as mandating masks or rotating breaks and shifts to keep as few people on the floor as possible.

This is something that will be adapted and adjusted to suit the different times, places, and the science that is still ever evolving. Human contact, a thing that so many of us took for granted, is simply not allowed or recommended right now, and that’s not likely to change until we have either a suitable vaccine that is tested for safety or herd immunity, which we aren’t even sure is possible yet. When we hear this, we think of all the things that might mean, shuttered festivals, and fewer hugs, but the truth is that the long term effects of this pandemic are going to seep into every aspect of our lives, including cannabis culture.

Sharing is caring

One of the most popular things that draw so many into cannabis culture is the fact that it’s accepting and encourages sharing as a centerpiece. Stoners are often antisocial for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t stop them from sharing some love with those that they know and don’t, which is why the stereotypical smoking circle is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of them. ‘Puff puff pass’ and ‘sharing is caring’ are two of the most used sayings from cannabis culture, but now that everyone is afraid of COVID-19, that is sure to change.

Even once we get the all-clear to loosen restrictions, this newly heightened awareness surrounding germs doesn’t leave much room for more traditional values from cannabis culture, which are meant to bring people together to share in their love for the plant. Passing a joint is already a shunned practice if you aren’t toking with someone from your home, and that cringe of uncertainty is bound to echo for many months to come.

This means that stoners may not be so giving, simply because it means having to take so many extra steps or investing in different cannabis gear to share securely. Now instead of one joint, you’ll need two, and if all you’ve got is a bag of weed and a big bong on hand, and you’re friends are out of papers, then they’re going to be left out of luck. These small incidents might not seem like that big of a deal right now, but the love that brings cannabis enthusiasts together is the glue that holds the foundation of the culture, and if that falls apart, it’s not going to feel as warm or inviting anymore.

Cannabis companies

Cannabis culture is shaped by the people, but it’s also significantly influenced by the companies that interact with consumers. The unfortunate side of advertising, and the media, is that these companies tend to play off our biggest fears to make sales, and that means that this pandemic is likely just another tool in their arsenal moving forward, and it will leave lasting effects, that continue on long after the danger of COVID-19 has passed.

Aside from the switch in direction for advertising, which is very likely to play off the lingering fear surrounding the pandemic, cannabis companies will be forever changed, because just like with any other market, the biggest and most financially padded ones are the ones who will survive this global disaster. This means the downfall of smaller craft growers and the rise of big brand names, and that alone is going to result in lower quality and a shorter range of products and strains on the market.

When the best interests of consumers are no longer aligned with the cannabis companies that are left to exist, the market might just crumble under the pressure of several decades worth of customers who know exactly what they want. This could result in massive financial constraints for cannabis companies and even an uprising by consumers who get sick of what they have to offer. Whether or not this could be good or bad is highly debated, but it’s a conflict that could seriously alter cannabis culture as we know it today.

A focus on health and safety in the design of new devices

All around the world, we’ve seen companies make the switch to more health conscientious options. Things like foods that are made without preservatives or high doses of sugar, have been replaced by alternatively sweetened all-natural choices that you can feel great about. In general, this shift is viewed as a positive one, that leads to longer and healthier lives for everyone who partakes, and now that COVID-19 has left so much devastation in its wake, people are starting to pay attention to germs.

Right now, the most popular smoking devices on the market are bongs and pipes, and both of these options won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, because they work great for solo toking sessions, but they are mostly preferred because they can also be shared with friends. Unfortunately, sharing a mouthpiece is a sure-fire way to spread any kind of germs, and this fact, combined with the pandemic, may lead to the introduction of a new breed of cannabis devices.

There are very few communal bongs, pipes, or vaporizers that offer multiple pieces, or a more unique design, to avoid sharing germs, and this is something that is expected to change in the very near future. Since we aren’t sure what they’re going to come up with yet, there is no way to say for sure how this might impact cannabis culture, but the platform that was once filled with stoners sharing doobies might soon be replaced with strange, out of this world pieces, that allow for a safer, post-pandemic experience.

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